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Pulmonary Hypertension

What does it mean to have pulmonary hypertension?

Every day your heart pushes blood through your body. The blood goes through your lungs and picks up oxygen. When the veins and arteries (the tubes that carry your blood) get smaller, there is less room for the blood. The heart needs to work extra hard to get the same amount of oxygen to your body. This extra pressure in the arteries of the lungs is called pulmonary hypertension.

How do I know if I have pulmonary hypertension?

This condition has many signs. Just because you have a few of these signs does not mean you have pulmonary hypertension. Always talk with your doctor if you feel like you have any of these signs.

  • Shortness of breath after exercise, like running, jumping and playing
  • Loss of energy
  • Dizziness 
  • Fainting
  • Swollen ankles and legs
  • Chest pain
  • Depression
  • Dry cough
  • Chalky white or dusky blue fingers that may be painful in cold weather, called Raynaud’s phenomenon

Risk factors

Anyone can have pulmonary hypertension. But, there are some things that can make it more likely. You are more likely to have pulmonary hypertension if you:

  • Have other diseases, like congenital heart disease, lung disease, connective tissue disease or liver disease. 
  • Have sleep apnea (a sleep condition when a person stops breathing during the night).
  • Have people in your family with pulmonary hypertension.
  • Live at a high altitude.
  • Take certain drugs, like diet drugs.

Testing for pulmonary hypertension

There are many tests your doctor could use to find out if you have pulmonary hypertension, including:

Blood test—to evaluate the lungs, heart, liver and other organs.

Chest X-ray—shows parts of the heart that have grown.

Doppler echocardiogram—a painless test that takes pictures of the heart and blood vessels.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)—records the electric signals being sent from the heart. It works with a few small pads put on the skin.

Exercise Test (six-minute walk test)—checks to see how well the heart can handle different kinds of exercise.

Nuclear medicine scan—tests how well oxygen is moving through the lungs. It does this with a small piece of radioactive matter, called a tracer.

Pulmonary function test—measures how well the lungs are working.

Right-heart catheterization—measures the pressure inside the heart and blood vessels.

Find out more

The Pediatric Pulmonary Hypertension Program at Children's Sibley Heart Center offers a complete range of services to diagnose and treat pulmonary hypertension.